Forbidden Brewing Company evicted over bitter lease dispute

The Westerly Hotel issued the nano-brewery with a “notice to terminate” on Feb. 8

When Forbidden Brewing Company owner Michael Vincent showed up to work on Feb. 8, he was shocked to see the locks had been changed, the power shut off, and four notices taped to the inside of the door.

The notices outlined that the Courtenay-based nano-brewery was not compliant with its lease agreement and was being evicted, effective immediately.

“The tenant is in default of its obligations under paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Lease, by reason of its failure to pay Additional Rent in the amount of $1,982.47,” reads a portion of one of the notices.

“The Tenant has failed to remedy this default after the provision by the Landlord after 30 days’ notice to cure the default.”

The Forbidden Brewing Company is located at the Best Western Westerly Hotel in Courtenay.

The hotel’s general manager, Rick Browning, says the brewery had not paid its “Additional Rents” from October through December 2017.

“If you don’t pay the rent, the bailiff comes in and locks the doors. We didn’t lock the doors, the bailiff locked the doors,” he said.

The notices on the brewery’s door also cited offering live music, operating exterior signage without prior permission, and not providing customers with designated parking stalls as examples of breaches of the lease.

Vincent, Forbidden’s owner and operator, states the brewery is not in the wrong and posted about the dispute on its Facebook page on Feb. 8.

He says the conflict between the brewery and the Westerly Hotel has been going on since 2016.

The two sides have already been to court over some of the issues cited in the eviction notices. In September 2017, the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled in favour of the brewery being allowed to stay at the hotel as a tenant.

The Court’s ruling did state that the brewery owes the Westerly Hotel payments for Additional Rent, including hydro/electricity bills, but that the amount was unclear. The two sides are now awaiting an appointment with the Supreme Court’s Registrar’s Office to determine the amount of debt owed.

“The judge found that we do owe them money, but we have no idea of how much that is, so we’re supposed to be going in front of the registrar to determine how much,” said Vincent.

Vincent said the hotel presented Forbidden with a $30,000 hydro bill last year. He said the Westerly did not supply any documentation for the amount.

“His response was to just pay it and they’d show us the details later,” he said.

The Court’s ruling also found that the brewery’s co-designation as a “lounge” meant the pool table and live music on Friday nights were allowed. Another issue cited in the eviction notices — the brewery’s exterior signage — was deemed acceptable as well.

Browning said the notices posted on Feb. 8 have “absolutely nothing to do with that court action.”

“This particular termination is for non-payment of additional rent,” he said.

Browning said that hotel customer reviews have highlighted dissatisfaction with the noise and odours associated with the brewery and that its lack of adequate insurance was a “huge liability” for the hotel.

Another issue is that the beer that was fermenting when the power was shut off on Feb. 8 is at risk of spoilage, according to Vincent. He said the retail value for that amount of beer is about $20,000.

“The power has been restored. We’ve been requesting access back in to confirm that the system came back on and the temperature settings… to make sure everything is good. We haven’t been allowed back in,” he said on Friday.

The Forbidden Brewing Company opened in 2015 and has occupied the space at the Westerly Hotel since July 2014.

“Our relationship is bad with the general manager,” said Vincent. “Until he leaves or moves on, I don’t see it getting better. But we have every right to stay there for another six years if we so choose. To let ourselves be pushed out of the space — it’s just not an option for me.”

The brewery’s original lease, signed in 2014, was renewed in 2016. It expires on Sept. 30, 2019, though Vincent said there is an option to renew for another three years after that.

“There are better locations and better places to be in Courtenay, and one day we’ll move. But we’ll move when we want to move,” he said.

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